5 Basic Photo Editing Tricks (VI)

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Self Portrait in Ottawa

A lot of you have been asking me questions about photography and how to achieve certain effects. While I’m by no means an expert, I’m an avid photographer and I had to chance to experiment a lot. I’m also always a teacher at heart and yes, I like talking about photography, because I’m sure I can give you some tips and learn from you as well.

So I decided to start the Saturday Series again, this time with a focus on photography. A new “lesson” will be published every Saturday, for a total or ten posts. Enjoy the “Ten Photography Tips“!

Alright, let’s be honest: yes, I edit all my pictures. Doesn’t mean I do much though. First, my editing skills aren’t that developed, second, I like my pictures to look natural. Indeed, photo editing is an art in itself and plenty of photographers spent hours developing new techniques or following processing fads.

While excessive editing cannot successfully mask improper techniques and poor photography, a little editing can dramatically improve your pictures.

Cropping Something, all you need a little bit of cropping to reveal a great picture. Trim off the excess, remove the distractions in the background and cut down to your main point of focus. You can either keep set dimensions or get a bit creative, it’s up to you. Virtually all main editing software have a cropping function, including Flickr (where you can edit with pictures with Piknik) and Picasa (which is free).

The original pic

Tada! Cropped... looks better

Color Balance Color balance is the global adjustment of the intensities of the colors. Basically, sometimes the camera doesn’t render the colors the way they are because of the color of the light sources: some light bulbs add a yellow color, bright sun makes everything looks warm, shade turns thing blue-ish etc. The camera’s auto white-balance system is easily mistaken. Fortunately, on most cameras, you can chose a white balance manually with settings such as “cloudy’, “sunny”, “fluorescent” etc. and the camera will compensate accordingly. You can also correct the color balance when editing your pictures and even play with it.

The original picture looks reddish

After balancing colors, lost the red hue

Straightening Like I explain last week, crooked shots are one of my pet peeve. It’s very easy to set the horizon set in pictures if you forgot to do it while shooting. Simply align and rotate the picture, and crop a bit if needed. Once again, this is easy to do with the main editing softwares, such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Picasa etc.

Mmm... Bit crooked!


Adjust the Exposure When the exposure is too short, pictures look dark. If the exposure is too long, the picture looks too bright. You can adjust the exposure manually on most cameras (look for the “+” or “-“ buttons). You can also correct it at the editing stage. Warning: this can get tricky, so better get this exposure right when taking pictures!

This sunset is overexposed

A more dramatic sunset after adjustments

Correct Red Eyes Ah, the evil red eye… while it certainly add some Halloween flavour to your portraits, your subjects may not like it (eh, not everybody wants to be an evil vampire!). The red eye effect occurs when you use the flash: the bright light passes into the eyes of your subject through the pupil and reflects. It looks red because of the blood in your eyes. The best way to avoid this effect is to either use ambient light or to have the subject look away. When editing, you will notice numerous software allow you to remove the red eye effect and make your subject look human again. They will thank you, for sure.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. The best free photo editing program I have found is Paint.Net It can do most of what Photoshop does and for nada. I love it. I agree with your teps and usually do a little tweaking with most of my photos. And I definitely agree that no amount of editing can fix a bad photo. Maybe the best tip is to click off a number of shots to give you choices. Digital photos cost nothing so click away.

  2. I don’t crop anymore because my camera is old and if I crop I don’t have sufficient definition to print my pictures :/ I still do square crops but that’s as far as I can go.

  3. You know, I think you’re a great photo editor Zhu — your photos are fantastic. I sometimes sharpen the image a bit or mess with the contrast settings/brightness/color balance/etc. I do not have Photoshop but I do have basic editing tools so I am a happy camper.

  4. Thank goodness for the straightening function! If it wasn’t for that, all of my photos of the Eiffel Tower (and everything else) would be crooked.

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